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The Origins of Wind Over Water

Wind Over Water: Migration in an East Asian Contextedited by David W. Haines, Keiko Yamanaka, and Shinji Yamashita, was published by Berghahn Books in November 2012. Here, the editors discuss the origins and motivations for the collection. 


Wind over Water grew out of a concern to see East Asia – and East Asian scholars – better represented in the literature on contemporary human migration. Perhaps its most important purpose has been to show the full range and import of migration in East Asia rather than attempt any particular theoretical or policy argument. Thus the volume ranges, as the back cover blurb will tell you, “from Korean bar hostesses in Osaka to African entrepreneurs in Hong Kong, from Vietnamese women seeking husbands across the Chinese border to Pakistani Muslim men marrying women in Japan, from short-term business travelers in China to long-term tourists from Japan who ultimately decide to retire overseas.” While there are limitations to this kind of inclusive approach, it has the decided advantage of forcing a consideration of East Asia migration in its entirety: whether short-term or long-term, whether internal or across national borders, whether for economic or social purposes. Furthermore, it does so for countries that are closely linked politically and culturally but divided quite sharply between those with already rather well-developed economies, like Japan and South Korea, and those with still developing ones, such as China and Vietnam.


For those already interested in East Asian migration, or more general issues of social continuity and change in the region, the range of explorations in this volume will, we hope, provide some appreciation of the importance of contemporary migration and how complex but also interesting human mobility can be.


For those looking from outside East Asia, the lessons from the book may be a bit different. Two deserve particular attention. The first is that the vast changes in international migration are occurring simultaneously with extraordinary internal migration (as in China and Vietnam), or with massive internal shifts now only a generation or two distant (as in South Korea and Japan). In China much of this internal migration is across the same kind of cultural, linguistic, and even legal boundaries that those in the West tend to associate with international migration. Thus there is an enormous opportunity to reunite the two long-divided aspects of migration studies: internal and international. East Asia provides a particularly interesting complement to Europe where, because of the Schengen agreements, there is also increasing fuzziness and blending between internal migration and immigration as they have been conventionally defined.


The second key lesson lies with how explicitly migration policy is interwoven with other kinds of public policy in East Asian countries. The most developed of the East Asian economies tend to be acutely aware of the social and economic effects of plunging fertility, including both the necessity of more people to avoid demographic collapse, and the more specific need for care workers for an increasingly elderly population. East Asian countries have hardly resolved these issues, but the degree to which they are willing to engage with them is often impressive. Their efforts provide an alternative context for examining long-range social planning and one that may be useful to other countries that face the same forbidding demographic, social, economic, and cultural challenges.


Overall, it may well be the case that migration, as a process and as a policy concern, is an especially useful focus for considering the overall challenges faced by both developing and developed countries in this century. It is a topic that, when considered broadly as it is in this volume, transcends the often compartmentalized issues of social, political, economic, and cultural development. Yet it is also a topic that drills down to the very essentials of human life, of why human beings have over the centuries been alternately highly mobile and highly sedentary. Here, as in many other areas, it is vital to have the East Asian case more clearly on the record.



David W. Haines is Professor of Anthropology at George Mason University. He is the author of Safe Haven? A History of Refugees in America (2010), has twice been a Fulbright scholar, and is a former president of the Society for Urban, National, and Transnational/Global Anthropology (SUNTA).

Keiko Yamanaka is a Lecturer in the Departments of Ethnic Studies and International and Area Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work appears in a range of books and journals, including Paci?c Affairs; Ethnic and Racial Studies; Diaspora; Asian and Paci?c Migration Journal; and Publications of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD).

Shinji Yamashita is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Tokyo and former president of the Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology, the world’s second largest national anthropology association. He is the author of Bali and Beyond: Explorations in the Anthropology of Tourism (2003).